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Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Africa Calling in Lisbon

Close to Lisbon's great monuments in Belén, from where the Voyages of Discovery set sail for Africa in the 16th century, is the district of Alcântara. In one of those poetic twists of history, a neighborhood named for a Crusading Military Order of the Middle Ages, bent on conquest, is today a cultural center for the descendants of enslaved and once colonized Africans. As the Portuguese Empire unraveled into civil wars following the death of the Dictator Salazar and the Carnation Revolution of 1975, immigrants fled the chaos for the safety of Portugal. Today, as with immigrants everywhere in the world, they sing of a lost homeland in their native tongue.
Casa das Mornas in Alcântara is a lively cultural center, with a bar gallery where locally based African artists show their works, the barman prepares caiparinhas and other tropical drinks, and the restaurant serves up Cape Verdean specialties. The owner Bana, now in his late 70s, moved to Portugal thirty years ago and still sings rhythmic mornas, the Cabo Verdean Blues, while diners enjoy good food and wine in a chic modern setting, the walls covered in portraits of famous musicians, including Bana himself. The audience the night I was there ranged from age 20 to 70, including local Portuguese and criollos from the colonies. If at night's end the sophisticated, laid back club is not enough, the night is still young at 2am and the nearby Cabo Verdean dance clubs are just starting up.

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